Camping with muskox

What could possibly go wrong?
22/10/2019

Last September I traveled to Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park to photograph the muskox. While muskoxen seem like fluffy approachable medium-sized cattle, they are actually a grumpy goat-like species that might charge when feeling threatened. Signs at all park entrances warn visitors to maintain a minimum distance of 200 meters. What could possibly go wrong?

So here is the story: I really wanted to photograph muskox (Ovibos moschatus) in the wild. Dovrefjell in Norway is the nearest location to do so and up north I went. The original plan was to do a solo multi-day hike, camp in the wild and then return to an official camping ground. Day 1 started very well. Starting from Kongsvold train station and reaching the end of the tree-line I saw a herd just below a mountain ridge, followed by a close encounter of a big male giving me the evil eye.

Barren plateaus, many colours.
Barren plateaus, many colours.


After following the trail in the direction of the Reinheim cabin I set up shop in a beautiful valley next to the Stropla stream. Herds of muskoxen were roaming everywhere and I had a blast with the soft autumn light at the end of the day. After some high-end cuisine involving freeze-dried food, I decided to call it a day and crawled into my sleeping bag. At this point, I need to inform you I selected my camping spot on an elevated part along the stream while being protected on the other side by a steep embankment, with the idea of not having any muskox breathing down my sleeping bag. Also, somewhere I got the idea - don't ask me how - that muskox were diurnal, so mainly active during the daytime...

Wild camping in Norway: use down sleeping bags, not muskox!
Wild camping in Norway: use down sleeping bags, not muskox!


After two hours or so of blissful sleep, I woke up to the sound of something large sloshing thru said stream and breathing heavily just beside my tent. Now I want to stress that I really wanted to keep 200 meters distance, but they obviously did not read the same signs as I did. Also, muskoxen have quite an impressive array of sounds. There are the guttural low warning tones and the annoyed huffing through the nose sounds. A tent is usually not perceived as a threat by most animals, but the fabric was making a racket in the heavy wind. I had visions of 250 kg of shaggy fur rampaging thru. Luckily this animal moved away, but after an hour of fitful sleep, another visitor appeared... With this pattern repeating itself for the remainder of the night. Needless to say, I didn't sleep much.

Can you see the herd?
Can you see the herd?


Did I also mention that while I put my camera batteries inside my sleeping bag, I forgot to do so with my water bottle? It was frozen solid the next morning with the stream well underway. Did I mention cold? Anyway, I decided that all further attempts at manliness were pointless, I hiked back and checked into a comfortable wooden cabin for the remainder of the trip. Which was a great decision: a seasoned traveler knows when to change the plan after all.

They look like a moving carpet. You almost want to pet them. Better not.
They look like a moving carpet. You almost want to pet them. Better not.


Overall, I had a blast and the adventure and photographs I was after. I saw fifty or so moose. I found two antlers of wild reindeer while hiking, which definitely ranked among the best souvenirs ever. I visited the Snøhetta viewpoint, arguably the most beautiful viewing point I ever visited, enjoyed the stunning autumn colors, and saw two male musk-ox battle it out. And finally, I could entertain you with the above story and give you some thoughtful advice: be aware while camping in muskox country!

A male taking a break between fighting.
A male taking a break between fighting.

Antler of one of the last remaining wild Fennoscandian reindeer in Europe!
Antler of one of the last remaining wild Fennoscandian reindeer in Europe!

The beautiful Snøhetta viewpoint.
The beautiful Snøhetta viewpoint.

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